She saw the Firbolg, last of all his race,
Fall on the soil once theirs. Even then she knew not
The inevitable shaft had pierced whate'er
Of woman heart was hers. The strong man's death
Lifted that veil his victory ne'er had raised :
Standing mid others she beheld him dead :
Thenceforth that deep-toned voice, that mournful front,
Those stern yet stately ways, so great and plain,
Haunted her memory. Oft with sudden spasm
She strove to shake that viper from her breast
Which sucked its life-blood. ' I, the Princess, love !
And love a Firbolg ! ' She had never loved :
Self-love, sole regent of the unloving heart,
Had barred it 'gainst all other tenderer loves :
In vain the island chiefs had wooed and sued :
She spurned them each and all.
Of these the last
Was Rochad, and the proudest, in the North
A vassal prince of Conor's, oft his foe :
The passion she had kindled she had scorned :
Rochad had vowed revenge.
The Invasion of Uladh. 195
In wonder Meave
Noted the weary lids, the vanishing bloom,
The abrupt accost, though haught yet unassured ;
The movements to mechanic changed, the mind
Still strong, yet widowed of its flexile strength ;
These things she saw ; their cause she ne'er divined :
Love for the living Meave could understand :
For her the dead was dead. To Finobar
The one thing yet remaining was her pride :
Questioned, her answer ever was the same,
' Onward, to Eman ! '
Nearer it each day
They drew. One evening through the sunset mist
A camp, high-seated on a bosky hill,
Shone out, fire-fringed : aloof it stood as one
That halts 'twixt war 'and peace. Ere long they learned
Rochad that site had chos'n, with Uladh's King
Friendly but half, thence slow to prop his cause.
Then spake the queen ; 'The hand of yonder chief
Sustains our battle's balance. If his host,
Now dubious, joins the bands that vex our flank
No choice remains but this, a homeward course
Or, if a march to Eman, then the loss
Of half our hard-earned spoil and hate thenceforth
Of all our vassal kings.' Forth flashed the eyes
1 96 The Foray of Queen Meave.
Of Finobar it was their latest flash
She answered thus ; ' The sequel leave to me !
He loved me, Rochad, once : ere sets yon moon
I bring you tamed the lion of yon hills,
Aye, in a silken leash ! '
Rochad far off
Beheld her coming ; marked it with a smile ;
Welcomed her gaily ; led her to the feast ;
Thence to his tent wherein was none beside.
There put she forth whatever subtlest art
In seeming-simple innocence disguised
Imagines of persuasive, whatsoe'er
Delicatest craft of female witcheries
Potent for man's destruction can devise,
To bend that warrior's will. The winter beam
Thaws not the polar ice : o'er Rochad's soul
So passed the syren's pleadings. Pleased not less
To stand implored, he dallied with her suit
Destined, and this he knew, to end in shame.
She, self-deceived, inly made vow ; ' This tent
I leave not, save victorious.'
Hours went by :
She noted not their flight. Once more with skill
Plastic as wind in woods, a measured strength
Varying as minstrel's hand that grazes now
Now sweeps the tenderer or the deeper strings,
The Invasion of Uladh. 197
To all the passions of the heart of man
Glory, Ambition, Love, Revenge, she tuned
The modulations of her passionate strain ;
While half the richness theirs aforetime throbbed
Again in those sad accents, half their light
For oft from out the present shines a past
Long dead returned to eyes that, seen of none,
Had wept away their splendours. Calm he sat,
Sternly quiescent Sudden on her broke
The fatal truth. She saw her power was gone ;
And all that posthumous life late hers sank back
In embers lost and ashes. On the West
Rested her gaze. A cloud of raven black,
Its veil for half that night, had drifted by,
And o'er that distant gleam, her mother's camp,
Slowly the moon descended. Finobar
That hour recalled her boast ; ' Ere sets yon moon
I bring you tamed the lion of yon hills,
Aye, in a silken leash ! '
The Orient soon
Whitened with early dawn. Forlorn it lay
On hill and heath and plain and distant mere,
Forlorner on the haggard face for oft
A face, still fair, in anguish antedates
Its future of that woman as she knelt,
She knelt at last, low on that threshold low.
198 The Foray of Qiteen Meave.
Then came the hour of Rochad's great revenge :
Then first he answered plainly ; ' Finobar !
One day I knew you not : I know you now :
Your spells are null when once their trick is learned :
Likewise your face has lost its earlier charm.
Back to your mother ! Say, ere sets yon sun
I join the king my master, from his gate
Repel with scorn the invader.' Forth he passed
Without farewell. A clarion broke ere long
Her trance : adown the slope she saw his host
Winding t'ward Eman.
From a burning couch
She rose next eve ; and, strong with fever's strength,
Paced swiftly by that sunset-crimsoned stream
Which cut the camp in twain. Anon she marked
In all who met her, change inexplicable,
Strange eyes, strange faces, strange embarrassed ways ;
Sadly compassionate that change in some :
In others questioning glance and meaning smile
Hinted at things that through her flaming heart
Passed like a sword of ice. Whisperings not less
There were, but these she heard rxot ; ' What ! All
From eve to morn with Rochad in his tent !
The men she fed on hopes she sent to death
Beside the Ford. Well ! pride must have its fall !
The Invasion of Uladh. 199
Rochad is joined with Conor ! ' Slanders worse
Some chiefs whom most her haughtiness had galled
Ventured, vain-glorious. Late one eve the truth
Sprang like a tigress on her. In his tent
She heard her father with her mother speak ;
' She yet may wear the crown : her maiden fame
Is lost forever ! '
Three hours ere her death
Thus to her mother spake that sentenced one ;
' Noise it among the host that grief for those
Her countrymen the Gael who, near the Ford
Ere yet that Firbolg shared the common fate,
Fell by Cuchullain, snapped her thread of life.
Bear on your march my body : raise the cairn
On the first hill that kens Emania's towers.'
So spake she ; and the queen obeyed her hest :
She flung that rumour forth ; and all who heard,
Heart-stricken now, believed it. But on Meave
A piercing sadness fell ; and by her bed
Orloff her buried son stood up, and spake ;
' Home to thy native realm, and Cruachan !
Not less a battle waits thee great and dread
'Twixt Gairig and Ilgairig.' One day's march
Eastward still marched she ; then upon a hill,
The first whose summit looked on Eman's towers,
Interred the all-beauteous one with Pagan dirge,
2OO The Foray of Queen Meave.
And o'er her piled the cairn. Southward, next morn
She turned, and crossed the Ford. Fulfilled was thus
Cuchullain's word, breathed o'er Ferdia dead,
' Finobar snared thee. Finobar shall die.'
But many a century later Uladh's sons
Rose up and said ; ' Great scorn it is and wrong
Yon stranger's grave should gaze on Eman's towers : '
Then bore they forth those relics once so fair
With funeral rites revered and Pagan dirge,
And laid them by the loud-resounding sea,
And o'er them raised a cairn : and, age on age>
As sighed the sea-wind past it shepherds said
4 It whispers soft that sad word, Finobar t '
Q UEEN ME A VE 'S RE TREA T.
QUEEN MEAVE, having reached the sacred plain of Uta, sacri-
legiously encamps thereon. A Druid denounces the late war as
unrighteous, while Fergus contemns it as ineffectual ; and imme-
diately afterwards the Mor Reega manifests herself to the host.
Next evening, while division of the spoil is being made, Meave is
ware of the advance of King Conor ; and Ailill transfers the supreme
command to Fergus, who prepares for the attack. The battle is
gloriously won by Fergus. That night Meave is warned by signs and
omens ; and Cuchullain, weak from his wounds, arrives in the
Ulidian camp. From midnight to near sunset the next day he lies
in a trance, during which fair spirits minister to him again his
lost strength ; and there is shown to him a vision of some mystic
greatness reserved for Erin, yet of an order which he cannot under-
stand. When the second battle is well nigh lost Cuchullain wakes ;
and Meave is driven in utter overthrow across the Shannon.
AT last the war had whirled its giddy round ;
And Meave, well nigh returned, the Shenan ' near
Beside Ath-Luain streaming in its might,
Decreed to make division of her spoil
1 The Shannon.
2O2 The Foray of Queen Meave.
Ere yet she crossed it. In the West the sun
Was sinking ; in the East the moon uprose ;
While camped her host on Uta's sacred plain
Betwixt the double glories. Far away
Immeasurably glittered the pastures green
Illumed with million flowers. Nor spade, nor plough
Till then that virgin region had profaned ;
Nor sound, save Shenan's murmur, stirred therein.
There stood the Tomb Heroic. Beams and showers
Alone might pierce that soil sabbatical;
Such reverence held the spot. Now all was changed ;
111 choice ; if chance, ill-omened. Neighing steeds
Dinned the still air ; while here at times was heard
Whistling of him that fixed his tent, and there
Wood-cleaving axe or feaster's laugh mistimed.
Higher and higher rose the moon full-orbed,
Mirrored in pool and stream. At intervals
Half lost in bard-song near or shout remote,
The slender wailing of some captive maid
Rang out and died.
The royal tent was set
High on a grassy platform. Meave that night
The first time since the death of Finobar
Was cheerful of aspect ; and, banquet o'er,
Rising her warriors she addressed with vaunt
Beseeming not a queen. 'A year,' she said,
Queen Meaves Retreat. 203
' Is past since northward to the war we marched :
Then forth she loosed the sheets and spread the sails
And bounded on the waves of proud discourse
Recounting all her triumphs ; first, her wrong ;
Lastly, the cause of war, Cuailgn^'s Bonn
Chief captive mid her captives ! Here her voice
Rang loudest, and her eyes their fiercest beamed.
Rapturous response succeeded ; one alone,
A Druid old, dissentient. Thus he spake,
Not rising, to that throng of courtiers crowned :
' 111 doctrine have ye praised this evening, kings,
Unwise, to Erin's realms unprofitable,
Extolling war not based on righteous cause
Nor righteous ends ensuing. Kings and queen,
The end of war is retribution just
For deeds unjust ; ill cure for greater ill :
Wars there must be ; and woman-mouthed were he
Who railed against them : aye, but demon-mouth'ed
The man that boasts of war-dishonouring wars
Opprobrious, spiteful, predatory, base.
Sirs, how began this feud ? It rose from jest !
And what its close ? A sacred site profaned,
Inviolate till this day ! ' The warriors frowned ;
Yet all men feared the Druid beard and rod :
They stood in silence.
Fergus rose, and spake :
2O4 The Foray of Queen Meave.
' Sirs, I have heard a war this day extolled,
A war this day denounced On battle-field
Men say that I was born ; on battle-fields
Have lived from youth to age. What thing war is
I ought to know. Yet, sirs, these wearied eyes
Rolled many a day around from East to West
Still seeking war, and found it not : they saw
Six hundred men successive by the hand
Of one man slain, Cuchullain ; saw the torch
Hurl the red smoke-cloud o'er a thousand homes :
They saw a war-dance circle Uladh's coasts ;
They saw the ravished flock, and ravished herd,
The captive throng lance-goaded on its way,
Swine-herd and shepherd, hoary head, and maid
Beaming and basking in the healthful glow
Of youthful beauty. Sirs, they saw more late,
But saw from distance, Eman's walls high-towered :
This, this they saw not ; warriors, warrior-ruled,
Marching against them ! Mountebanks of war
They saw ; not warriors ! '
Plainly Fergus spake :
Not otherwise than plainly could he speak,
A man to Truth predestined ; since his birth
By courage sealed to Truth. The legend saith
That down before him on his natal morn
All Erin's fays and sprites from river or rill
Qiieen Meaves Retreat. 205
Their tributes laid. But, mightier far than they,
A winged goddess ran from sea to sea,
The island's breadth, to hail him ! As she sped,
The path before her, prone till then and low,
Rising ran out a 'craggy ridge sublime,
The same that for a hundred miles this day
Divides the realm. That highway lofty and straight
Foreshowed that ne'er in tortuous ways or base
Should walk that infant.
Raging, from their seats
The kings and chieftains leaped. A hundred swords
Flashed from their sheaths, and from a hundred mouths
One sentence issued ' Death ! ' By twos and threes
A score of stragglers from the exiles' band
Closed up behind him. Cormac Conlinglas
Beside him stood, sword drawn.
Again he spake ;
' Queen, till that day of shame was battle none,
Nor on that day ; nor since ! But on that day
Beside your daughter's cairn more royal far
Though fortunate less was she we two conversed :
I said ; " Without one blow you think to pass
Eman, that cast me forth ! Without one blow
To cross your Shenan, reach your Cruachan,
There make your terms secure, the spoil retained,
The exiles sent to judgment ! Note you, Queen,
206 The Foray of Queen Meave.
Those horsemen three a mile on yonder road ?
My heralds they ! The hour your flight begins
They speed to Eman. "
' You retreated. They
Rode on to Conor. To that chief of foes
I wrote ; " Advance ! The queen retreats : make speed !
She shall not 'scape the battle. Know besides
That battle of earth's battles till this hour
Shall prove the bloodiest. In it, sword to sword
We two shall meet ; one die." '
In measureless scorn
Then turned he to the kings, continuing thus ;
' What mean those clamours and those swords half
Which draw ye dare not ? Petty, titular kings !
The shadow of that royalty once mine
Dwarfs you to pygmies by comparison !
I heard a cry of " Treason ! " Let them lift
Their hands who raised it ! Kinglings mutinous,
Princes seditious, ye the traitors are !
And on the nod of him whom ye traduce,
Your pageant crowns sit trembling. Ere three days
Uladh is on you ! I shall stand that hour
Your King Elect ; not Ailill's choice, but yours ;
The Battle-King ; for well ye know that I,
None else, have skill to range the battle-field,
Queen Meaves Retreat. 307
And roll the thunders forth of genuine war.
Till that hour, silence, kings ! '
Silence they kept,
Long silence. Then far off, as though from depths
By thought untraversable of cloudless skies,
Such sound was heard as reaches ships at sea
When, launched on airy voyage though still remote,
Nation of ocean-crossing birds begins
To obscure the serene heaven. That sound drew near :
From every tent the revellers rushed. Then lo !
That portent seen alone in fateful times,
The dread Mor Reega ! Terrible as Fate
The goddess of the battles high o'er head
Sailed on full-panoplied, in hue as when
On Alpine snows, their sunset glories gone,
Night's winding-sheet descends. Upon her casque
And spear beyond it pointing glared the moon,
And on a face like hers that froze of old
The gazers into stone. As on she sailed
On that huge army coldness fell of death :
Yea, some there died. Next morning, from that spot
Northward to Eman lay a branded track :
Straight as a lance still stretched it, league on league ;
A bar of winter black through harvest fields,
A bridge of ice spanning the rippling waves ;
A pledge that men had dreamed not.
2o8 The Foray of Queen Meave.
In those days
Foreboding soon, like sorrow, passed away :
Ailill next morning counselled ; ' Ere the night
Cross we the Shenan. If the Red Branch comes
Fight we on Ai's plain ! ' But Meave replied
1 Not so ; I fly not ! One day here we rest :
Our kings await their spoil'
From morn to eve
That spoil's partition lasted ; first, huge herds ;
Flocks snowy-white through water-weeds and grass
Followed, hound-driven. War-horses few were there,
But many from the plough : with these, in crowds
Poor hinds, and swine-herds, maidens skilled in works
That knew to spin the flax or mix the dye
Or card the wool. Next followed wild-eyed boys
Bound each to each. No tear they shed, but scowled
Defiance on their lords and war-songs sang
Of Uladh and her vengeance. King and chief
Scanned each his prize with careless-seeming eye;
Yet oft their followers strove, while onward paced
The royal arbiters with wands high held,
Ruling the wrangling crew.
Upon a mound
Meantime the royal throne was set, a throng
Of warriors round it. Many a mirthful chance
Provoked their laughter : loudest laughed the queen ;
Queen Meaves Retreat. 209
But when she spake she waited not reply.
Without a bound to east and west and south
The prospect spread. Her eye was on the north :
Not distant stood two hills : she asked their names :
Her great eyes darkened when the answer came
Of Gairig and Ilgairig.
'Twixt these twain,
Shone out, distincter as the sun declined,
Long northern ranges. Fergus marked her eye
That moved not from them, smiled, and made demand,
' What find'st thou in our mountain ridges, Queen,
That merits gaze so fixed ? ' Then she ; ' I note
Girdling their slopes a mist feathery and soft,
As though of snow-flakes wov'n : above it peaks
Shoot up, like isles cloud-hid. Within that mist
I see strange lights that cross like shooting stars ;
Cross and re-cross, quick-bickering.' With a smile
That deepened, Fergus questioned once again :
' Make large thine eyes and tell me what thou seest ! '
Then Meave ; ' Through all that mist is movement
The agitation of some wondrous life,
And t'wards us on it rolleth.' Fergus next ;
' Thine eyes see well ! If others saw like thee
Their tongues would clang less loudly. Hear'st thou
2io The Foray of Queen Meave.
The queen made answer ; ' Many a sea I hear
That breaks on many a shore.'
Then Fergus cried
' Thou seest my Uladh coming, and the way
And fashion of the advent of her war !
For know, great Queen, even now the Red Branch
Car-borne descend yon slopes ! That mist thou saw'st
What is it but the tempest of their march,
The dust flung upwards and the sweat exhaled
And visible breath of warrior and of horse
That breathes the northwind and the sunny glare ?
What else the snow-flakes which thou saw'st but foam
Dashed from the horses' bits ? Thy bickering stars,
What else but flaming cars and fiery helms
This way and that way passing ? What thy peaks
Crowning that mist, but Uladh's hills remote
That send her children to avenge her wrong ?
And what that thunder sound of many seas
But music of their coming ? Well for thee
If o'er them sail not, veiled from mortal eyes,
That dread Mor Reega ! '
Reddened as he spake
Meave's cheek late pale ; yet careless she replied ;
' I see her not, therefore believe her not,
And breathe securely since that gleam far off
Queen Meave s Retreat. 211
Is human, not demoniac or divine ;
For never feared I yet the arm of man :
Cuchullain dead, I hold at nought the rest.'
Thus Meave : but all the kings and chiefs arose
Clamouring to her and Ailill ; ' Lo, 'tis come !
All Uladh, and a battle such as ne'er
Shook the foundations of this kingly isle !
Now therefore bid him rule thy host, the man
That knows to rule ! ' 'Twixt passions twain at war
Meave silent stood. Ailill to Fergus turned
And spake ; ' Be thou henceforth our Battle-King :'
Thus spake he ; then, releasing from his belt
The sword usurped of Fergus, added thus ;
' Receive once more thy sword ! in mirth erewhile
I made it mine : the virtue in that blade
Hath kept me till this hour.' Fergus replied ;
' I take mine own : but one month past, this sword
Had cut the cancer out of Uladh's breast,
And made thy throne a praise on earth for aye !
I take mine own, on thee a sword bestowing
That best becomes thee. Waiting long this hour
For thee I kept it.' Proudly Ailill clasped
Its glittering hilt : Fergus drew back the sheath ;
And lo, a wooden sword, for babes a toy !
The concourse laughed ; the loudest Meave : though
2 r 2 The Foray of Queen Meave.
Ailill a little whiffling laugh essayed
With sidelong face.
Then Fergus in the soil
Planting his sword upright before it knelt,
And spake ; ' O thou my sovereignty, my sword,
In many a battle, yet in none unjust,
So many a year my glory and my mate !
Mine art thou, mine once more ! In all this host
Who shall henceforth reproach me ? '
To his task
The strong one sped, and change was over all :
Again the voice of discipline was heard :
None drank in booths ; none rushed abroad ; with sloth
Fierceness had vanished. Followers of the camp
Alone were left in charge of flocks and herds :
The clansmen to their duties were restored,
The clans in order ranged. He delved a trench
Barring from Uta's plain the advancing foe,
And bridges o'er it flung, that so his host
Permission given, and not till then, might strike
Forth pouring torrent-like at Uladh's heart :
Pits too he dug bristling with stakes sod-hid.
He gave command like one that, born to power,
With courteous might scarce conscious puts it forth :
He spake the word : all heard him : all obeyed
Magnanimous to feel when majesty
Queen Meaves Retreat. 2 1 3
Authentic stood before them. Duty done
Engendered strenuous joy, and strength, and hope :
Thus through the mass the spirit of one man
Triumphed, and ruling, raised it : on each face
His corporal semblance lived light hearted might,
The moonlight hours
Shone brightly on their labours. Six had sped
Ere Fergus sought the royal tent where sat
Revellers right ill at ease. As in he passed,
The concourse, Meave herself and Ailill, rose,
And did him regal honours. Of his toils
Nought spake he ; but their hearts who saw him swelled
And many marvelled why they late were sad :
Again the laugh ; again the tale ; the song
Then came a change. A gradual sound was heard,
Yet what and whence they knew not. It increased ;
It swelled ere long, voluminous ; grating next ;
Then dreadful like the splitting of a world
Whose strong foundations crumble. Forth they passed
Through hurrying clouds the moon rushed madly on,
Now dim, now fiercely glaring. From the north
In terror sped the forest beasts and dashed
Wild through the camp while panic fell on all.
The sole man unastonished, Fergus spake :
' Sirs, late ye learn our warfare ! As the spring,
214 The Foray of Queen Meave.
When the first spray catches the amorous red,
Her song-bird sends, herald and harbinger,
So Uladh sends before her onward steps
Her shrill-voiced vanguard : men of might are they,
Hewers of war- ways for her battle cars
Advancing through the forests. First ye heard
Their axes only ; last, the falling trees :
What, Sirs, ye look like men ill-pleased ! Well, well !
Not all delight in music. Sirs, good-night !
When breaks the dawn be stirring.'
In the camp
Few slept that night. Vanished the moon in cloud :
Then shone the watch-fires on the northern hills
Next morn the Uladh host down swarmed
Betwixt those neighbouring hills and round their base
Far spread as flood that, widening on its way,
Changes the heights to islands. Countless wrongs
And shame at all that long inglorious trance,
Roused wrath to madness ; from them far they flung
Encumbering arms, and, bare from scalp to waist,
Worked on with brandished battle-axe. Three hours
That trench withstood them. Kelkar ruled their left,
Their right great Conal Carnach, while the king
Marshalled their centre. There the strongest bridge,
Tower-guarded, longest held their host at bay ;
Queen Meaves Retreat. 2 1 5
Longer had held it, save that from his place
Fergus, the hour foreseen arrived, gave word
' Fling wide the gates ! ' In rushed they ; but to meet
A foe unwasted yet. The Red Branch Knights
Surpassed their old renown. In fresher strength
The host confederate met them. Meave herself
With downward mace three champions slew that day,
Him last, that felon son of faithful sire,
Buini, the Ruthless Red, who, breaking pledge,
Betrayed the sons of Usnach for a bribe :
His father's prophecy the Accursed fulfilled
Slain by a woman's hand. Fergus, at last
Forth launched upon his native element,
Raced o'er the battle billows like a bark
When tempests stretch its canvass. Chief on chief
Went down before that sword that still, men sware,
With sweep that widened like a rainbow's arch
Ran from his hand and harvests reaped of death.
O'er-spent, not scared, that Northern host gave way